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Monday musings on Australian literature: Some Australian adventurers

January 23, 2017

Enid Moodie Heddle, Some Australian adventurersRegular readers here may remember that last year I wrote a few posts (this, this and this) inspired by books I found while clearing out my late aunt’s house. Well, here comes another. It’s inspired by a book that was probably a school text because my aunt wrote her name and her school in the front cover. The book is Some Australian adventurers. It was first published in 1944 by Longmans, Green and Co., and was edited by Enid Moodie Heddle.

I’ve never heard of Heddle but she has a Wikipedia page so is clearly of some note (given Wikipedia’s notability requirement). It describes her as “an Australian poet and writer for children”. She moved around somewhat. She was born in Melbourne (in 1904), went to high school in Sydney and university back in Melbourne. AustLit contributes that “As an infant Enid travelled around the world under sail with her Orcadian sea-captain father …”. She taught in South Australia, Victoria and England where she also researched child libraries. She then worked for publishers Longmans and Collins, becoming, after World War 2, Education Manager (for whom?) overseeing the publication of textbooks for schools and universities. So there we have it, the book probably was a school text!

From the title I thought it might comprise mini-biographies of – obviously – some Australian adventurers but, in fact, it’s an anthology of writings by Australians. Its aim, the Introduction explains, is not

to give a comprehensive idea of Australian prose, nor even to picture with any sort of completeness the country, its people, customs and history, but rather, to catch something of the spirit of adventure and joy in discovery which seem to us [who is “us”?] to be not only characteristic of the majority of the writers here represented, but also of Australians as a race.

Hmm … moving right along, the Introduction goes on to tell us that the book doesn’t contain the full stories and is “but a prelude to adventure.”

The book is divided into six sections:

  • In the land of Mirrabooka;
  • The white intruders;
  • Animals and men;
  • Further afield;
  • Strange encounters; and
  • Story and character.

Most sections, except the first one, contain more than one excerpt. Brief biographical details are provided for each writer, plus suggestions for further reading. The authors include those I know, such as Eleanor Dark, Ion L Idriess, Frank Dalby Davison, Vance Palmer and Henry Lawson, and many I don’t such as Elizabeth Bussell, William Hatfield, Hendley Herbert Finlayson. The writings include fiction and non-fiction, including letters. And the non-fiction writers include the famous adventurers, antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson and aviator Charles Kingsford Smith. So, a varied bunch.

“infinite variety” (Parnassus)

I will write later about the content, but first I’ll share some contemporary reviews, though “review” is a generous name for what were mostly a paragraph or two. I found them through Trove of course. Although my copy is dated 1944, the book ran into many editions/reprints, and the earliest review I found came from 1946. The reviewer, “Parnassus” of Western Australia’s Western Mail, heads his/her piece with “there is keen interest just now in works of Australian writers”, which is good to hear given the cultural cringe which commonly typified Australian response to cultural fare. Parnassus has a rather funny formal style, commending the book with the following:

One likes the editor’s selection. It is of infinite variety, and while including extracts from recent publications she has given us a timely reminder that Australian writers have not by any means confined their writing to bush lore and descriptions of the inland …

One does, does one!

I am indebted to Parnassus, however, because s/he paid the book more attention, giving it about 6 paragraphs, than most I found. Victoria’s  Argus called it “a handy little volume” and briefly described the breadth of its contents, while Book News, in 1947, found the excerpts “wisely chosen” but said they were “spoiled by an unworthy cover jacket and frontispiece”. I can’t comment on the cover jacket as Google displays many different editions of the book, but my title page does say “with a frontispiece” without identifying who it is. Strange. Queensland’s Courier-Mail, probably describing the same edition, starts its little paragraph with “Once past an excellent, yet misleading, dust jacket to this bright little compilation, you’ll find here a book true to title”. I’d love to know which dust jacket they are talking about. Finally, one more, this time from South Australia’s Advertiser. It is also generally positive but makes this observation:

Although all of the foremost authors of this country are not represented, and the stories themselves are not indicative of the best their writers can produce, the collection as a whole can be said to be a cross-section of Australian literature.

Interesting point about not being “indicative of the best” but perhaps the best don’t represent the “adventurer” theme well. Overall, though, not a bad recommendation for a volume of less than 180 pages.

“riches in experience” (Introduction)

I like that the book starts with an Aboriginal legend. The bio for the first piece’s writer, K Langloh Parker, commences by recognising that “the first adventurers of whom we know in Australia, the land of Mirrabooka, the Southern Cross, were the Australian aboriginals”. Parker, we are told, “did us a great service by collecting their legends and retelling them in English in a way as near as possible to the original”. How did they know I wonder? Langloh Parker started doing this in the late nineteenth century. The legend included in Heddle’s book, “Beereeun the mirage maker”, came from her 1898 book, More Australian legendary tales, which was, we’re told, illustrated by an aboriginal artist.

This recognition of indigenous Australians continues in the book’s second section, The white intruders, which contains excerpts from four writers, beginning with Eleanor Dark. Her excerpt comes, as we’d expect, from The timeless land. In this excerpt, “Breaking the flag”, Dark imagines first contact from the indigenous point of view, something white writers would be unlikely to do today – and rightly so – but Dark must be admired for what she tried to do in her time.

Another excerpt in this section is from a writer I don’t know, William Hatfield, and his 1933 book, Desert saga. It’s about an indigenous man, Grungunja. Hatfield may not be well-known now, but he clearly was in 1930s  and 1940s Australia, particularly among socialist circles in which the rights and plight of indigenous people were being discussed. The last sentence of the excerpt is uncompromising. It occurs after a confrontation with white pastoralists and police. Remember, we are in Grungunja’s head:

All his generalship, all his valour had availed him nothing, then. True, his tribesfolk were unharmed, they were to be left in possession of their country, but only as a subject people.

Hatfield was, I understand, largely a polemical writer. It’s probably why he’s faded from view, but it’s also something that makes him relevant to those of us interested in the past.

Now, my aim was not to review this book but to use it to add to my project of increasing my knowledge about the history of Australian literature: who was around at different times, what were they thinking and what did others think of them? This book – and my related research of Trove – has furthered that. I could very well return to it to explore some of the other authors and topics it covers.


26 Comments leave one →
  1. NeilAtKallaroo permalink
    January 24, 2017 04:00

    This was published during WW II. Could this have influenced its content, or even that it was published?

  2. January 24, 2017 06:27

    One thinks that this is quite a treasure from your aunt’s girlhood. How old would she have been when she read this for school?

    • January 24, 2017 07:50

      Around 13/14 I’d say, Stefanie. She was a keen reader through life, and always gave us books when we were children.

      • January 24, 2017 11:52

        What a wonderful woman she sounds like!

        • January 24, 2017 14:27

          She was in many ways Stefanie – though had her frustrating moments too! But, she was a true character, and our lives have lost something with her absence.

  3. January 24, 2017 08:12

    Snap! I have just come upon this book in packing up dad’s things. I imagine he bought it for teachers college in 1947 (In Vic whereas your aunt was in NSW). I was impressed to by the fact that it began with Aboriginal stories, and that the second section is labelled ‘White Intruders’. You mention Eliz Bussell – the Bussells, who settled south of Perth, were ubiquitous in accounts of WA in the C19th.

    • January 24, 2017 09:58

      Haha Bill, people of an era eh? Thanks re Elizabeth Bussell. As you’d know, her piece is a letter, but I hadn’t known that her family was so well known.

      What cover does yours have? Mine is one of those soft fabric style covers, in green with red writing.

      • January 25, 2017 14:12

        It’s boxed up now, but the same cover I think, but from a second print run in 1946. Having a wonderful time here, just found a book of essays from 1762.

        • January 25, 2017 14:22

          Ah well, never mind, Bill. I’ve seen two hard covers with dust jackets with images, one of which in particular looked a little weird. They were both around 1946/7 so your father’s is probably one of those.

          1762! Wow. An anthology? Or one writer?

  4. January 24, 2017 10:11

    It sounds as if it’s a NSW version of the Victorian Readers which were (for Years Prep to Grade 6) anthologies of classic literature in forms edible for young readers. (Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife is in it, for Grade 5, I think).

    • January 24, 2017 11:59

      Lisa, you know I hesitate to disagree with you, but I think it was an anthology intended for schools, but not a ‘Reader’. Amongst my father’s school books which I am this moment moving to my son’s are two earlier (different) Sixth Readers from 1897 and 1911 printed in Dublin for use around the Empire.

      • January 24, 2017 14:29

        Yes, that’s my sense too Bill – as I replied before I saw your response. My research suggests that NSW had readers. I saw one on the internet for Grade 1 from 1928 with, they said, illustrations by May Gibbs.

        But it is interesting teasing all this out isn’t it?

      • January 24, 2017 15:20

        *chuckle* feel free to disagree!
        Gosh, 1897 and 1911! What treasures!

    • January 24, 2017 14:26

      It might be Lisa though I think NSW had those too. This seems more like a special one-off thematic one and it doesn’t specify a year. As it was widely reviewed in the press around Australia I suspect it was prepared with schools in mind but was marketed as a general anthology.

      • January 24, 2017 15:19

        Perhaps like Contes Modernes which was an anthology of short stories in easy French.

        • January 24, 2017 17:06

          Yes, perhaps. I’m not sure if these are exactly easy English but they have, I’d say, tried to choose engaging excerpts so in that sense that may be a fair analogy.

        • January 24, 2017 21:32

          Don’t forget that what’s considered ‘easy English’ these days would probably have been considered babyish all those years ago…

        • January 24, 2017 22:09

          True – that’s one of the things I notice in Trove, the high level of vocabulary and the complex sentences and you realise the change. The change isn’t all negative – horses for courses and all that – but it’s certainly different.

  5. ian darling permalink
    January 24, 2017 21:11

    Sounds like a fascinating anthology. I think there must have been some recognition of these Australian exploration/travel narratives in the UK because I can remember our school library containing an Oxford World’s Classics anthology which I probably dipped into.

    • January 24, 2017 22:07

      That’s interesting Ian … of course over here, we dipped into a lot of British adventurers (fictional and non-fictional)

  6. Meg permalink
    January 25, 2017 13:59

    What a great book to own, and also because it belonged to your Aunt. It is nice to have family keep-sakes.

    • January 25, 2017 14:20

      Thanks Meg. Yes it is. You can have too many, so next move I’ll have to be a bit more discerning, but meanwhile I’ll enjoy what I have here.

  7. Meg permalink
    January 25, 2017 15:06

    I am just doing that now, sorting through my books. I haven’t found one yet to take to the op shop. The books keep moving back to the book shelves!

    • January 25, 2017 16:22

      I love this Meg! I have managed to get rid of a few books but very few – just tinkering around the edges and mostly they’ve been more text-book style non-fiction or those gift-y sorts of books (if you know what I mean). I have got rid of a bunch of reference books (except for my big dictionaries) because I use the internet for looking up things. But, one day, I am going to have to take myself in hand and just. do. it. Wah!

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